Green voices: the resurgence of political activism


The climate change debate is breathing new life into political activism.

Protest march

The attendee's of October's Climate Camp in Helensburgh, NSW, take their message to the streets.

Credit: John Treadgold

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What would motivate you to join a protest movement? How dire would a situation have to get before you lost faith in the powers that be and took it upon yourself to physically demand change?

The lack of major protest actions over the past decade would suggest that this threshold hasn't been met for the majority of Australians. While this could be interpreted as either complacency or contentment, the climate change debate is stirring a change. A recent rash of protest actions is clear evidence of many people's frustration.

At the recent Climate Camp in Helensburgh, NSW - a gathering of people peaceful protesting against coal mining - I asked one attendee, Liam, from Newcastle, what had motivated him to attend the protest. "Dealing with climate change is a unique issue, there's so many resources backing up big-industry," he said. "I just didn't feel I could rely on politicians anymore, I had to do something."

The Climate Camp was held in parklands adjacent to Australia's oldest coal mine, Metropolitan Collieries, just south of Sydney. It brought together grass-roots communities who were concerned about the environmental impacts of the planned expansion of the mine. Workshops, music and discussions sought to unite and educate the disparate campers. The weekend culminated in a mass peaceful demonstration.

"I haven't protested before, but after seeing some horrific environmental degredation in South America I had to act, I didn't want to let that happen here in Australia," Liam said.

The climate change debate is a divisive battleground that pits the interests of heavy industry against the need to reduce carbon emissions. With an impending carbon constraint, the days of cheap, plentiful coal-fired power are over. This poses a conundrum for Australia, a country dependent on coal fired electricity and buoyed by emissions-intensive exports.

While it appears our government has sided with the coal industry, demonstrated by its generous concessions in the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, many Australians feel their views aren't being considered.

Another attendee of the camp, Juliet, a public servant from Sydney, explained her feelings of helplessness: "I do all I can, but I feel like I don't have a voice. It gets depressing. Coming to an event like this re-empowers you to keep up the pressure."

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